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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Trial Run. By John von Daler

                          The room was as pure and as light and as empty as a good conscience. The height of the ceiling and the identical length and breadth of the walls formed a kind of over-sized cube that diminished the people within it and rendered them insignificant. The white, wooden panels pointed up and away in the direction of god, but the ceiling above the room probably prevented Him from getting any kind of view of what went on there.
                 I had come to the headquarters of the Danish police in Copenhagen to be interviewed in order to receive my permanent visa. I was twenty-two years old.
                A secretary from one of the numbered service slots in the large entrance hall of the #immigration authorities had ushered me around and behind the row of sitting civil servants, through a door in the back, and down a long hallway to this room. "Wait here," she said and closed the door as I took a seat in front of the large, empty desk. I spent the next few minutes speculating about what possibly could go on in a room like this.
                A few minutes later an old policeman came in carrying his uniform jacket, a pad of paper and three pencils. His shirt was clean and white and matched the thin hair covering the pink skin on the top of his head. Framing the lower half of his face he had a narrow beard that looked like the handle on a milk-bucket used in some immaculate stall. He extended his huge, clean hand.
                "Good Day!" He pointed for me to sit back down in the chair from which I had stood up.
                He hung his jacket on a hanger beside the door and sat down behind the desk. He began to straighten his papers by tapping them lightly on the desk. Then he put them flat on the desk and lined up the pencils just beside the stack. When they had been placed perfectly he chose one and with it in hand looked hard at the blank sheet in front of him.
                I have a slightly traumatic feeling about blank sheets of paper. "Take out a pencil and a blank sheet of paper," our teachers always had said when they popped a surprise quiz on us. I had expected this man to fill out a form about me, you know, Form - A17v.349b - or some such questionnaire. But now the man in deep silence seemed to be thinking about what to say. Finally, he decided.
                "Name?" We worked together on getting it spelled exactly right, no only one l, yes, a little v, no, no h, and so on.
                Then he thought awhile.
                After this exchange, he wrote and thought and wrote and thought. His writing seen from my vantage point looked like the steps left in clean gravel by small chickens scurrying after a mother hen. Then he switched pencils.
                The next fifteen minutes he asked and thought and wrote and thought and repeated the same questions, about my studies, my reasons for being in Denmark, my Danish connections. Every once in a while he straightened out the papers. It dawned on me that I as yet had not said whatever secret words that would get me through the gateway to this country.
                He started to look at a loss for words. Either he would have to find something incriminating or something ingratiating, something with which to reject or accept me. He sat in silence.
                Then he got an idea, not a pearl, but a new source of informational detail.
                "Where do you live?"
                I gave him the address of a large house where I rented a room in the rich suburbs of Copenhagen.
                "And who owns this place?"
                I gave him a name.
                "And what does he do?"
                I have seen pheasants flushed out of their nests by shouting boys. I have seen a flood of water surge out of a sewage pipe that had just been opened. I have seen workers pour out of a factory all together at exactly four p.m. But never have I seen such a sudden, gushing and high-flown reaction to a mere fact.
                "He is the first secretary of the prime minister of Denmark," I muttered, not realizing that I had found the keys to the kingdom.
                The old man stood up with a jolt. He held his large, uniformed body at attention. He looked me in the eye and coming around the corner of the desk he stuck out his hand.
                "Welcome to Denmark!" he said. "Welcome to our country! You can get your stamp in the front office. No, as a matter of fact, I will get the stamp for you! Please follow me!"
                I followed the old guy with his jacket, his papers, and his pencils down the same hallway back to the big room with its booths occupied by interrogating civil servants. At the counter he stamped my passport and then handing it back to me he bowed as far down as the counter would allow. As he straightened up, his left eye twitched involuntarily. I took the passport with me into the courtyard outside the huge, anonymous public building. Then I tried to find the correct direction.
                Southeast, I thought. Czechoslovakia must be south-southeast of Copenhagen. Studying the fickle Danish sun that always fiddled around somewhere too close to the horizon, I found what I thought was south-southeast from Copenhagen and repeated without a twitch of an eye the old policeman's bow in the direction of Franz #Kafka.  Thanks for getting it so right, Kafka, I whispered. And excuse us for giving it your name.

I trust that buying my book
through will
not be a too-Kafkaesque
Try. Click on the picture
to get there:


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